How to Implement Gamification at Work, Part 3/4: Scaffolding, Building Toward the Endgame

This article was written by Contributing Writer Erik van Mechelen based on the ideas of Yu-kai Chou

Scaffolding workplace gamification

We recently asked you why you were part of the Octalysis Explorers Facebook group or joined the Kickstarter for Octalysis Prime. The largest segment of responses fell into this category:

I want to implement gamification in my workplace.

Maybe this is even a goal for you in 2017.

This is part 3 of a 4-part series (here is Part 1: Getting Buy-in from your Boss and here is Part 2: How to Onboard and 7 Things to Avoid When Implementing Gamificiation at Work).

Please note: I will reference the 8 Core Drives throughout this post: 

Continue reading How to Implement Gamification at Work, Part 3/4: Scaffolding, Building Toward the Endgame

How Zappos’s Culture Uses White Hat and Intrinsic Motivation


This article was written by contributing writer Erik van Mechelen.

Using White Hat and Intrinsic Core Drives in Company Culture

In November 1998 Tony Hsieh sold his company to Microsoft because it had a losing culture. What seemed like a success actually wasn’t one in his view.

What started as an exciting sleeping-under-your-desk startup in 1996 quickly grew to a 100-person company with a culture that had taken a turn for the worse. He even dreaded waking up in the morning and wondered if his employees thought the same.

Bad culture was Hsieh’s explanation for selling.

“We hired all the right people with the right skills and experience, but they weren’t culture fits.”

Tony Hsieh took what he learned at LinkExchange and approached Zappos differently. While other companies talk about work-life balance, Tony Hsieh focuses much more on work-life integration.

“With Zappos we wanted to make sure we didn’t make that same mistake again…so pretty much from the beginning paid attention to company culture.”

We know from Octalysis that the White Hat Core Drives are important for long-term engagement in work settings. Traditional hierarchical structures tend to layer bureaucracy and slow decision-making, removing creativity and meaningful choices from employees who might otherwise make great contributions.

In these settings, situations can develop where employees are motivated by loss and avoidance, scarcity, and money.

Smaller companies usually have the upper hand, more naturally fulfilling epic meaning, creativity and empowerment, and collaboration.

Hsieh understood the difficulties of larger companies, as evidence by a few of Zappos’s core values, which included:

  • embrace and drive change
  • adventurous, creative, and open-minded
  • do more with less

Tony Hsieh Gets Rid of Managers

This was the headline in 2013 when Hsieh rolled out his flat management structure. But Holocracy is a little different than removing management from a command and control system. Managers were out, but there were still lead links and circles and structure.

When Hsieh started to explain the how behind the system, people were forced to look more closely at how Holacracy, the patented model he’s using, actually works.

It turns out Holacracy is a little different than removing management from a command and control system.


This is from (the system Tony Hsieh is using).

Holacracy is a complete, packaged system for self-management in organizations. Holacracy replaces the traditional management hierarchy with a new peer-to-peer “operating system” that increases transparency, accountability, and organizational agility.

This is easy to understand. Holocracy provides an alternative to command and control systems. Lead links still ensure progress within ‘circles’, essentially productivity units.

Through a transparent rule set and a tested meeting process, Holacracy allows businesses to distribute authority, empowering all employees to take a leadership role and make meaningful decisions.

This appeals to CD5 Social Influence & Relatedness by giving all employees leadership roles, CD4 Ownership & Development by increasing each individual employee’s authority, and CD3 Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback by increasing meaningful choices.

A lot of people got excited about it, even Ev Williams of Twitter, who tried it with his newer company, Medium, in the early days.

“In Holacracy, one of the principles is to make the implicit explicit — tons of it is about creating clarity: who is in charge of what, who is taking what kind of decision — and there is also a system for defining that, and changing that, so it’s very flexible at the same time.”

The model didn’t work for Ev’s Medium, but Tony Hsieh hasn’t given up on the model that easily.

The Case for Holocracy at Zappos

Tony is confident that despite growing pains the model has enough benefits to play out favorably in the long run. If cities get more efficient as population levels increase, why don’t companies?

Perhaps this quote best explains Tony’s confidence:

“There is a quote that is often attributed to Darwin (whether Darwin actually said it is up for debate, but I believe the general principle to be true): ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.’ I believe the same is true for companies, and especially for entrepreneurs.”

Tony wants the type of people that are culture fits, and culture fits within Holocracy, to be with Zappos for the long term.

How Zappos is Using Holocracy (and a Timeline)

In 2013, Tony Hsieh decided to implement Holacracy with a pilot program.

Then he decided to implement across the organization, but the company missed its goal of integration by Jan 2015.

Hsieh later regretted not moving more quickly with the decision to roll this out to the entire company. He ended up making employees ‘the Offer’ to either stay or take a severance package in late 2015. About 18% of employees (260 people) took the deal, while 82% stayed. Hsieh mentioned he thought more would leave.

This decision was interesting. In Hsieh’s view, the transition to Holacracy had already taken too long. This ultimatum was a CD8 technique. Some employees did end up taking the severance package and leaving.

A Mirror of Hsieh’s Personal Leadership Style

For me, Hsieh’s decision to implement the Holacracy experiment for the whole company is in line with his motivations to try new things (and echoes his city planning and development ambitions for the northern section of Las Vegas).

It also seems to mimic his own preferred management and leadership style, which is hands-off and empowering of his team.

What’s interesting is how against the grain the empowerment and authority structures seem.

On one hand, the model seems to empower employees and let them develop outside of their conventional skill sets. (A lot of the people who left would have lost their titles or worked on something completely different to their work at the time.)

On the other hand, while the model suggests added flexibility and agility, there are still inherent structures through the Lead Links and Circle system. It will be interesting to see if Zappos’s quirkiness and fun (from its 10 core values) meshes with the new system, even after three years.

A quick look at the Zappos culture site demonstrates the rigor preparing for such a model as Holacracy takes. It’s something different, and it just might be a powerful way to empower employees in the long term.

Whether it succeeds or fails will make critics reconsider or add fuel to the arguments against the model.

What models do you prefer in management and company structure? What is your startup using? I’ll see you in the comments.


Synergetic Motivations: How to Drive Desired Actions Using Combos of Game Techniques

This article was written by Contributing Writer Erik van Mechelen with content provided by Yu-kai Chou. 

Synergetic Motivation

This article is for experienced designers already familiar with Beginner Octalysis and some Intermediate Octalysis who are looking to up their game on designing experiences. We are making the jump from identifying the 8 Core Drives of motivation to using them to build experiences. 

‘Synergy’ always makes me think of business school applications (I’ve helped a few friends edit theirs). But it is a real thing.

Google defines synergy like this:

The interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.

For Octalysis, synergetic motivation simply means any time multiple motivations–any of the 8 Core Drives–are at work at the same time.

As you build your own projects and products, or dissect what isn’t working on the same, we will want to pay attention to potential for synergies and drawbacks of them, like situations where our Player might have multiple motivations but we’re only catering to one of them in the design and thus failing to reach the Desired Action.

As always, we’ll use the 8 Core Drives in this analysis.

Continue reading Synergetic Motivations: How to Drive Desired Actions Using Combos of Game Techniques

Implementing Gamification in your Workplace Part 2/4: How to Onboard & 7 Things to Avoid When Implementing Gamification at Work

This article was written by Contributing Writer Erik van Mechelen

Onboarding gamification

We recently asked you why you were part of the Octalysis Explorers Facebook group or joined the Kickstarter for Octalysis Prime. The largest segment of responses fell into this category:

“I want to implement gamification in my workplace.”

Maybe this is even a goal for you in 2017. This is part 2 of a 4-part series (here is Part 1: Getting Buy-in from your Boss).

Once you complete this article, move on to Part 3.

The following is my thought process and recommendations for a human-focused redesign.

Please note: I will reference the 8 Core Drives throughout this post: 

Who are you?

Whether you’re a leader, team manager, experience designer, product developer, or hustler might change to what extent your proposals and ability to onboard are successful. But don’t let your position in your organization hinder you. And don’t assume that if you’re the CEO everyone will immediately jump on the train.

If you’re a team manager, you might have already seen the article on Octalysis for Team Managers, or our post on motivating salespeople.

From here, instead of prescribing the details of how to proceed, I’ve made a list of actions and situations to avoid. Proceed with a balance of enthusiasm and strategy!

7 things to avoid when implementing gamification at work

  1. Starting without buy-in from your boss
  2. Forgetting about motivation (the core Drives)
  3. Not understanding player types
  4. Going too fast
  5. Embarking without allies
  6. Not being ready for different speed/adoption by players (super users, etc)
  7. Not being committed (when you start something, show up every day)

1. Starting without buy-in from your boss

If you’re an employee, your boss or manager will be a key ally, from motivation to operational requirements through to funding. Make sure he or she is on your side! (Here’s my previous article, Part 1: Getting Buy-in from your Boss).

The Strategy Dashboard can be a very valuable conversation starters. Tools like Sketch can help you create mockups once you reach that stage (and if you have a software-focused gamification design).

Also, if you haven’t, check out more about the Discovery phase, since implementation requires your organization already be aware of the power of gamification. And YOU are going to help them discover this exciting news (if you haven’t already).

2. Forgetting about motivation (the 8 Core Drives)

Gamification is so much more than badges, points, and leaderboards. You need to have a baseline understanding of all of the 8 Core Drives (even if you don’t always remember the numbers for them).

You can, however, use the Octalysis tool as consistent visual artifacts to give your design backbone.

If I was proposing 20% at my office, I might begin with the following exercise, envision a shared place to share projects with a community facilitator sharing news and giving feedback on interesting projects.

3. Not understanding player types

What are the people in your organization motivated by? Do these motivations vary from person to person? What about from season to season? Are certain times of the year more or less stressful?

These questions can help you understand how to design and implement your changes.

If you like, you can check your preparation by creating personas.

The workplace is also full of Anti Core Drives.

For several years, my brother Mark has contemplated leaving work as a risk manager and crude analyst for an energy commodities trading firm to follow his passion of creating and producing music. When asked why he won’t, he cites losing progress toward a prestigious and lucrative role as an energy commodities trader, among other things. His Desired Action (to live a life making music) is fueled by Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, but that Core Drive is first dampened and then repeatedly defeated by its Anti Core Drive. In this case, the Anti Core Drive is Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment.

Knowing these personal stories can help you adapt your design even after you’ve implemented (or learned from customer surveys or experiments with early designs).

4. Going too fast and flying blind

Make your onboarding actions easy and looped to give people confidence as they get into the system.

If you’re not using metrics to monitor early users, you’re flying blind. Define at least one primary metric and collect feedback, even if that feedback must by design be qualitative (hopefully you have some way of a quantitative feedback).

5. Embarking without allies

If I was implementing 20% Time at my organization and using a forum-based sharing and collaboration space, I would definitely give someone the role of Community Facilitator. This person will be involved in making sure everyone has a great time, stays motivated, and ultimately adds value to each others’ experience. (If your employees don’t add value during 20% Time, then your company won’t reach its Win States).

Remember, early adopters or users of your gamification implementation can help mobilize and help others. You probably already know who those people will be. Ally and align with them.

6. Not being ready for varying speeds

If you’re not ready for growth you might miss an opportunity to make your gamification implementation a great success.

Think: “This may not happen, but if it does we will do this and this and we’ll be ready for the growth.”

Once again, your allies can be called to your aid if your gamification implementation goes better than expected early on.

7. Not being committed

Remember why you wanted to do this and why your boss was bought in. Be consistent with what you say you will do and deliver.

As a reminder from Part 1, your boss could be interested in his own promotion or status (Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession), or she could be a very curious person who is eager to experiment (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback AND Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity).

If you don’t know what your boss is motivated by, you need to do some detective work. If you have regular meetings with your boss, you can simply ask: “What’s most important to you in the next 6 months, 12 months, 18 months?” Or “What are you most concerned about in regard to the business in the next 12 months?” These are just starting points that could get a conversation going.

Get started with Onboarding

Avoid the above, good luck, and look forward to the next part of this series: Part 3/4 about preparing and managing your gamification implementation at work for the Scaffolding phase!

5 Books that Welcomed me to Games and Gamification

This post was written by Contributing Writer Erik van Mechelen

The value of reading

With non-fiction, I usually read quickly (scan), apply what I’ve learned, then come back later as needed to refresh. I prefer to learn by doing. This is the case for my education in gamification, too (I built an iPhone app instead of reading too much about it.)

For me, books are just a great way to see how others have done it and test against your own approach.

I borrowed my brother’s copy of The Lord of the Rings from his bookshelf. I was nine years old. Ever since, reading has been my favorite way to consume content. With a book in hand or on screen, I can read as fast or as slow as I want, mark the pages, save comments for later, and return to the book when needed. (I still think reading is one of the biggest level-ups any parent can give their child. And I believe that many of us can improve our reading ability and critical thinking well into adulthood.)

Continue reading 5 Books that Welcomed me to Games and Gamification